T-Mobile's smacked its branding onto the lower back of the Xperia Z and loaded up a dedicated home screen pane with a suite of magenta-colored apps. But the single most important tweak the carrier's made to the Z? Why, that has to be its LTE radios, now capable of riding along the carrier's just-launched network. And of course, they can also helpfully fall back onto T-Mobile's robust HSPA+ 42 spectrum. That means you're getting swift speeds no matter the signal.
Oh, right, we almost forgot: this is a latter-day Xperia device, which means it's dust- and water-resistant, so don't worry about making that cannonball splash into the pool. The Xperia Z will survive; that's what the flaps are for. They're also designed to frustrate and confound since only two of the flaps are labeled, leaving users to clumsily seek out the appropriate ports when needed. Or commit the placement to memory. As for that arrangement, you have Sony's signature power button placed awkwardly on the middle-right edge between a covered microSIM port and the volume rocker. On the opposite edge, you'll find two neighboring flaps housing the micro-USB port and microSD slot, while the covered headphone jack sits on the handset's top-right edge.
You've read our reviews, so you know how we feel about the Z's design. Without completely retreading that territory, we'll say this: it's more function over form and light enough that those hard edges won't be too bothersome in hand. Still, it's attractive enough from a distance to at least confer a sense of premium craftsmanship to passersby -- which is what you want when you spend hundreds on a flagship phone.
The guts of the Xperia Z for T-Mobile are nearly identical to the global model's -- save for the aforementioned radio swap. You're getting a 5-inch, 1080p display powered by Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine 2 (for better photo and video contrast), and a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.5GHz. That's paired with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (with the option to expand by up to 32GB via microSD), a 2,330mAh battery and a rear-facing 13-megapixel camera outfitted with an Exmor RS sensor for HDR video and stills. And as we mentioned previously, the Z is water-resistant (IPX5/7) for up to a 1-meter depth, as well as dust-resistant (IP5X).
If ever we were to champion carrier customization, a good case could've been made for the Xperia Z; a panel change would've been welcome here. The 1080p screen Sony chose is just lackluster. It washes out with a slight tilt; blacks appear grey; and it's just too bright overall. It's nothing like the superb Super LCD 3 panel on the HTC Droid DNA. So if it's an excellent display you're after, look elsewhere.
||Sony Xperia Z (T-Mobile)
||Sony Xperia Z
||LG Optimus G
||HTC Droid DNA
|Vellamo (v2.0 HTML5)
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)
|GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt 1080p Offscreen (fps)
||N/A (wouldn't run)
|Battery life (rundown test)
|SunSpider: lower scores are better
Performance is pretty much on par with the global model of the Xperia Z -- and why wouldn't it be? This is the same phone we saw last February. The SunSpider score came in as slightly faster than the Z's unlocked counterpart, but for the most part, benchmarking yielded nearly parallel results across individual tests. As for battery life, you can expect it to last a full day with regular use (casual browsing, texting, tweeting, etc.). More formal testing (i.e., looped HD video) puts the Z at just four hours and 57 minutes; a result that's just a half-hour off from what we saw on the global model.
Sony's UX layer is pretty lightweight, so Android purists won't have much to find fault with. The Z, which runs version 4.1.2 of Jelly Bean, comes pre-loaded with a handful of Sony's own apps, like Walkman, Album, Movies, Sony Select, Socialife, PlayMemories Online, PlayStation Mobile, Music and Video Unlimited. Then there's the app load T-Mobile's contributed, which consists of My Account, T-Mobile TV, Visual Voicemail and Mobile Hotspot. The Z also supports WiFi calling and HD Voice on T-Mobile's network.
LTE performance in New York never reached the breakneck speeds we saw earlier this year when T-Mobile previewed the network. Given that LTE's now
not yet officially live in New York, this could change. But, for the time being, prospective Z owners can look forward to downlink speeds that top out at around 20 Mbps and uplink speeds that peak near 8 Mbps. Also, there's that HSPA+ 42 network to fall back on, so your connection (in New York, at least) should be consistent and reliable.
So, who's this Z for? Fans of Sony style, that's who. The Xperia Z's already been outpaced by newer, more powerfully specced flagship devices on T-Mobile, like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 -- not to mention that Google Play editions of those two handsets and the iPhone 5 are already available. It's also priced the same as the One and GS4 at $99 with a two-year payment plan, making it a hard sell for those who want the latest and greatest in smartphone design. Toss in that subpar battery life and washed-out display, and we're hard-pressed to recommend this Xperia Z to anyone who's not a Sony loyalist.
Zach Honig contributed to this report.